In which our hero begins to act and think for himself.
WHATEVER may have been Jack’s thoughts, at all events they did not spoil his rest. He possessed in himself all the materials of a true philosopher, but there was a great deal of weeding still required. Jolliffe’s arguments, sensible as they were, had very little effect upon him, for, strange to say, it is much more easy to shake a man’s opinions when he is wrong than when he is right; proving that we are all of a very perverse nature. “Well,” thought Jack, “if I am to go to the mast-head, I am, that’s all; but it does not prove that my arguments are not good, only that they will not be listened to;” and then Jack shut his eyes, and in a few minutes was fast asleep.
The master had reported to the first lieutenant, and the first lieutenant to the captain, when he came on board the next morning, the conduct of Mr. Easy, who was sent for in the cabin, to hear if he had any thing to offer in extenuation of his offence. Jack made an oration, which lasted more than half an hour, in which all the arguments he had brought forward to Jolliffe in the preceding chapter were entered fully into. Mr. Jolliffe was then examined, and also Mr. Smallsole was interrogated: after which the captain and the first lieutenant were left alone.
“Sawbridge,” said Captain Wilson, “how true it is that any deviation from what is right invariably leads us into a scrape. I have done wrong: wishing to get this boy out of his father’s hands, and fearful that he would not join the ship, and imagining him to be by no means the shrewd fellow that he is in reality, I represented the service in a much more favourable light than I should have done; all that he says I told him I did tell him, and it is I who really led the boy into error. Mr. Smallsole has behaved tyrannically and unjustly; he punished the lad for no crime; so that what between the master and me, I am now on the horns of a dilemma. If I punish the boy, I feel that I am punishing him more for my own fault and the fault of others, than his own. If I do not punish him, I allow a flagrant and open violation of discipline to pass uncensured, which will be injurious to the service.”
“He must be punished, sir,” replied Sawbridge.
“Send for him,” said the captain.
Jack made his appearance, with a very polite bow.
“Mr. Easy, as you suppose that the articles of war contained all the rules and regulations of the service, I take it for granted that you have erred through ignorance. But recollect, that although you have erred through ignorance, such a violation of discipline, if passed unnoticed, will have a very injurious effect with the men, whose obedience is enforced by the example shown to them by the officers. I feel so convinced of your zeal, which you showed the other day in the case of Easthupp, that I am sure you will see the propriety of my proving to the men, by punishing you, that discipline must be enforced, and I shall therefore send for you on the quarter-deck, and order you to go to the mast-head in presence of the ship’s company, as it was in the presence of the ship’s company that you refused.”
“With the greatest pleasure, Captain Wilson,” replied Jack.
“And in future, Mr. Easy, although I shall ever set my face against it, recollect that if any officer punishes you, and you imagine that you are unfairly treated, you will submit to the punishment, and then apply to me for redress.”
“Certainly, sir,” replied Jack, “now that I am aware of your wishes.”
“You will oblige me, Mr. Easy, by going on the quarter-deck, and wait there till I come up.”
Jack made his best bow, and exit.
“Old Jolliffe told me that I should have to go,” said Jack to himself, “and he was right, so far; but hang me if I hadn’t the best of the argument, and that’s all I care about.”
Captain Wilson sent for the master, and reprimanded him for his oppression, as it was evident that there was no ground for punishment, and he forbade him ever to mast-head another midshipman, but to report his conduct to the first lieutenant or himself. He then proceeded to the quarter-deck, and, calling for Mr. Easy, gave him what appeared to be a very severe reprimand, which Jack looked upon very quietly, because it was all zeal on the captain’s part to give it, and all zeal on his own to take it. Our hero was then ordered up to the mast-head.
Jack took off his hat, and took three or four steps, in obedience to the order—and then returned and made his best bow—inquired of Captain Wilson whether he wished him to go to the fore or to the main-mast head.
“To the main, Mr. Easy,” replied the captain, biting his lips.
Jack ascended three spokes of the Jacob’s ladder, when he again stopped, and took off his hat.
“I beg your pardon, Captain Wilson—you have not informed me whether it is your wish that I should go to the topmast, or the top-gallant cross-trees.”
“To the top-gallant cross-trees, Mr. Easy,” replied the captain.
Jack ascended, taking it very easy: he stopped at the main-top for breath; at the main-topmast head, to look about him; and, at last, gained the spot agreed upon, where he seated himself, and, taking out the articles of war, commenced them again, to ascertain whether he could not have strengthened his arguments. He had not, however, read through the seventh article before the hands were turned up—“up anchor!” and Mr. Sawbridge called, “All hands down from aloft!” Jack took the hint, folded up his documents, and came down as leisurely as he went up. Jack was a much better philosopher than his father.
The Harpy was soon under way, and made all sail, steering for Cape de Gatte, where Captain Wilson hoped to pick up a Spanish vessel or two, on his way to Toulon to receive the orders of the admiral.
A succession of light breezes and calms rendered the passage very tedious; but the boats were constantly out, chasing the vessels along shore, and Jack usually asked to be employed on this service: indeed, although so short a time afloat, he was, from his age and strength, one of the most effective midshipmen, and to be trusted, provided a whim did not come into his head; but hitherto Jack had always been under orders, and had always acquitted himself very well.
When the Harpy was off Tarragona, it so happened that there were several cases of dysentery in the ship, and Mr. Asper and Mr. Jolliffe were two of those who were suffering. This reduced the number of officers; and, at the same time, they had received information from the men of a fishing-boat, who, to obtain their own release, had given the intelligence, that a small convoy was coming down from Rosas as soon as the wind was fair, under the protection of two gun-boats.
Captain Wilson kept well off-shore until the wind changed, and then, allowing for the time that the vessels would take to run down the distance between Tarragona and Rosas, steered in the night, to intercept them; but it again fell calm, and the boats were therefore hoisted out, with directions to proceed along the shore, as it was supposed that the vessels could not now be far distant. Mr. Sawbridge had the command of the expedition in the pinnace; the first cutter was in charge of the gunner, Mr. Minus; and, as the other officers were sick, Mr. Sawbridge, who liked Jack more and more every day, at his particular request gave him the command of the second cutter. As soon as he heard of it, Mesty declared to our hero that he would go with him; but without permission that was not possible. Jack obtained leave for Mesty to go in lieu of a marine: there were many men sick of the dysentery, and Mr. Sawbridge was not sorry to take an idler out of the ship instead of a working man, especially as Mesty was known to be a good hand.
It was ten o’clock at night when the boats quitted the ship; and, as it was possible that they might not return till late the next day, one day’s biscuit and rum were put on board each, that the crews might not suffer from exhaustion. The boats pulled in-shore, and then coasted for three hours, without seeing anything: the night was fine overhead, but there was no moon. It still continued calm, and the men began to feel fatigued, when, just as they were within a mile of a low point, they perceived the convoy over the land, coming down with their sails squared, before a light breeze.
Mr. Sawbridge immediately ordered the boats to lie upon their oars, awaiting their coming, and arranging for the attack.
The white lateen sails of the gun-boat in advance were now plainly distinguishable from the rest, which were all huddled together in her wake. Down she came like a beautiful swan in the water, her sails just filled with the wind, and running about three knots an hour. Mr. Sawbridge kept her three masts in one, that they might not be perceived, and winded the boats with their heads the same way, so that they might dash on board of her with a few strokes of the oars. So favourable was the course of the gun-boat, that she stood right between the launch on one bow and the two cutters on the other; and they were not perceived until they were actually alongside; the resistance was trifling, but some muskets and pistols had been fired, and the alarm was given. Mr. Sawbridge took possession, with the crew of the launch, and brought the vessel to the wind, as he perceived that at the alarm all the convoy had done the same, directing the cutters to board the largest vessels, and secure as many as they could, while he would do the same with the launch, as he brought them to: but the other gun boat, which had not yet been seen, and had been forgotten, now made her appearance, and came down in a gallant manner to the support of her comrade.
Mr. Sawbridge threw half his men into the launch, as she carried a heavy carronade, and sent her to assist the cutters, which had made right for the gun-boat. A smart firing of round and grape was opened upon the boats, which continued to advance upon her; but the officer commanding the gun-boat, finding that he had no support from his consort, and concluding that she had been captured, hauled his wind again, and stood out in the offing. Our hero pulled after her, although he could not see the other boats; but the breeze had freshened, and all pursuit was useless: he therefore directed his course to the convoy, and, after a hard pull, contrived to get on board of a one-masted xebeque, of about fifty tons. Mesty, who had eyes as sharp as a needle, had observed that when the alarm was given, several of the convoy had not rounded the point, and he therefore proposed, as this vessel was very light, that they should make short tacks with her, to weather the point, as if they were escaping, and by that means be able, particularly if it fell calm again, to capture some others. Jack thought this advice good. The convoy who had rounded the point had all stood out to seaward with the gun-boat, and had now a fresh breeze. To chase them was therefore useless; and the only chance was to do as Mesty had proposed. He therefore stood out into the breeze, and, after half an hour, tacked in shore, and fetched well to windward of the low point; but finding no vessels, he stood out again. Thus had he made three or four tacks, and had gained, perhaps, six or seven miles, when he perceived signals of recall made to leeward, enforced with guns.
“Mr. Sawbridge wants us to come back, Mesty.”
“Mr. Sawbridge mind him own business,” replied Mesty, “we nebber take all dis trubble to ply to windward for noting.”
“But, Mesty, we must obey orders.”
“Yes, sar, when he have him thumb upon you; but now, must do what tink most proper. By de powers, he catch me ’fore I go back.”
“But we shall lose the ship.”
“Find her again, by-and-bye, Massa Easy.”
“But they will think that we are lost.”
“So much the better, nebba look after us, Massa Easy; I guess we have a fine cruise anyhow. Morrow we take large vessel—make sail, take more, den we go to Toulon.”
“But I don’t know my way to Toulon; I know it lies up this way, and that’s all.”
“Dat enough, what you want more? Massa Easy, ’pose you not find fleet, fleet soon find you. By God, nobody nebba lost here. Now, Massa Easy, let um go ’bout gain. Somebody else burn biscuit and boil kettle to-morrow for de gentlemen. Murder Irish! only tink, Massa Easy—I boil kettle, and prince in my own country!”
Easy was very much of a mind with Mesty; “for,” argued Jack, “if I go back now, I only bring a small vessel half full of beans, and I shall be ashamed to show my face. Now it is true, that they may suppose that we have been sunk by the fire of the gun-boat. Well, what then? they have a gun-boat to show for their night’s work, and it will appear that there was harder fighting than there has been, and Mr. Sawbridge may benefit by it.” (Jack was a very knowing fellow to have learned so much about the service already.) “Well, and when they discover that we are not lost, how glad they will be to find us, especially if we bring some prizes—which I will do, or I’ll not go back again. It’s not often that one gets a command before being two months at sea, and, hang me, now I’ve got it if I won’t keep it; and Mr. Smallsole may mast-head whom he pleases. I’m sorry for poor Gossett though; if Vigors supposes me dead how he will murder the poor little fellow—however, it’s all for the good of the service, and I’ll revenge him when I come back. Hang me if I won’t take a cruise.”
“I talk to the men, they say thay all tick to you like leech. Now dat job settled, I tink we better go ’bout again.”
A short time after this decision on the part of our hero, the day broke: Jack first looked to leeward, and perceived the gun-boat and convoy standing in for the shore about ten miles distant, followed by the Harpy, under all sail. He could also perceive the captured gun-boat lying to in-shore to prevent their escape.
“Harpy hab um all, by Gosh!” cried Mesty; “I ab notion dat she soon settle um hash.”
They were so busy looking at the Harpy and the convoy, that, for some time, they quite forgot to look to windward. At last Mesty turned his eyes that way.
“Dam um, I see right last night; look, Massa Easy—one chip, one brig tree lateen—dem for us. By de power, but we make bon prize to-night.”
The vessels found out by Mesty were not above three miles to windward; they were under all sail, beating up for the protection of a battery not far distant.
“Now, Massa, suppose dey see our boat, dey tink something; keep boat alongside, and shift her when we go ’bout every time: better not sail so fast now—keep further off till they drop anchor for de night; and den, when it dark, we take ’em.”
All Mesty’s advice was good, with the exception perhaps of advising our hero how to disobey orders and take a cruise. To prevent the vessel from approaching too near the others, and at the same time to let her have the appearance of doing her best, a sail was towed overboard under the bows, and after that they watched the motions of the Harpy.
The distance was too great to distinguish very clearly, but Mesty shinned up the mast of the vessel, and reported progress.
“By Jasus, dare one gun—two gun—go it, Harpy. Won’t she ab um, sure enough. Now gun-boat fire—dat our gun-boat—no, dat not ours. Now our gun-boat fire—dat pretty—fire away. Ah, now de Harpy cum up. All ’mung ’em. Bung, bung, bung—rattle de grape, by gosh. I ab notion de Spaniard is very pretty considerable trouble just now, anyhow. All hove-to, so help me gosh—not more firing; Harpy take um all—dare gun boat hove-to, she strike um colours. By all powers, but suppose dey tink we no share prize-money—they find it not little mistake. Now, my lads, it all over, and,” continued Mesty, sliding down the mast, “I tink you better not show yourself too much; only two men stay on deck, and dem two take off um jackets.”
Mesty’s report was correct; the Harpy had captured the other gun-boat, and the whole convoy. The only drawback to their good fortune was the disappearance of Mr. Easy and the cutter: it was supposed that a shot from the gun-boat must have sunk her, and that the whole crew were drowned. Captain Wilson and Mr. Sawbridge seriously regretted the loss of our hero, as they thought that he would have turned out a shining character as soon as he had sown his wild oats; so did Mr. Asper, because our hero’s purse went with him; so did Jolliffe, because he had taken an affection for him; so did little Gossett, because he anticipated no mercy from Vigors. On the other hand, there were some who were glad that he was gone; and as for the ship’s company in general, they lamented the loss of the poor cutter’s crew for twenty-four hours, which, in a man-of-war, is a very long while, and then they thought no more about them. We must leave the Harpy to make the best of her way to Toulon and now follow our hero.
The cutter’s crew knew very well that Jack was acting contrary to orders, but anything was to them a change from the monotony of a man-of-war; and they, as well as Mesty, highly approved of a holiday.
It was, however, necessary that they should soon proceed to business, for they had but their allowance of bread and grog for one day, and in the vessel they found nothing except a few heads of garlic, for the Spaniards coasting down shore had purchased their provisions as they required them. There were only three prisoners on board, and they had been put down in the hold among the beans; a bag of which had been roused on deck, and a part put into the kettle to make soup. Jack did not much admire the fare of the first day—it was bean-soup for breakfast, bean-soup for dinner, and if you felt hungry during the intervals it was still bean-soup, and nothing else.
One of the men could speak a little Lingua Franca, and the prisoners were interrogated as to the vessels to windward. The ship was stated to be valuable, and also one of the brigs. The ship carried guns, and that was all that they knew about them. As the sun went down the vessels dropped their anchors off the battery. The breeze continued light, and the vessel which contained Jack and his fortunes was about four miles to leeward. As for the Harpy, they had long lost sight of her, and it was now time to proceed to some arrangement. As soon as it was dark Jack turned his hands up and made a very long speech. He pointed out to the men that his zeal had induced him not to return to the ship until he had brought something with him worth having—that they had had nothing but beans to eat during the whole day, which was anything but agreeable, and that, therefore, it was absolutely necessary that they should better their condition; and there was a large ship not four miles off, and that he intended to take her; and as soon as he had taken her he intended to take some more; that he trusted to their zeal to support him on this occasion, and that he expected to do a great deal during the cruise. He pointed out to them that they must consider themselves as on board of a man-of-war, and be guided by the articles of war, which were written for them all—and that in case they forgot them, he had a copy in his pocket, which he would read to them to morrow morning, as soon as they were comfortably settled on board of the ship. He then appointed Mesty as first lieutenant; the marine as sergeant; the coxswain as boatswain; two men as midshipmen to keep watch: two others as boatswain’s mates, leaving two more for the ship’s company, who were divided into the larboard and starboard watch. The cutter’s crew were perfectly content with Jack’s speech, and their brevet rank, and after that they commenced a more important topic, which was, how they were to take the ship. After some discussion, Mesty’s advice was approved of; which was, that they should anchor not far ahead of the ship, and wait till about two o’clock in the morning, when they would drop silently down upon her in the cutter, and take possession.
About nine o’clock the vessel was anchored as they proposed, and Jack was a little astonished to find that the ship was much larger that he had any idea of; for, although polacca-rigged, she was nearly the same tonnage as the Harpy. The Spanish prisoners were first tied hand and foot, and laid upon the beans, that they might give no alarm, the sails were furled, and all was kept quiet.
On board of the ship, on the contrary, there was noise and revelry; and about half-past ten a boat was seen to leave her and pull for the shore; after which the noise gradually ceased, the lights one by one disappeared, and then all was silent.
“What do you think, Mesty?” said Jack; “do you think we shall take her?”
“It is take her, you mane; sure enough we’ll take her, stop a bit—wait till um all fast asleep.”
About twelve o’clock there came on a mizzling heavy rain, which was very favourable for our hero’s operations. But as it promised soon to clear up, by Mesty’s advice they did not delay any longer. They crept softly into the boat, and with two oars to steer her dropped under the bows of the vessel, climbed up the forechains, and found the deck empty. “Take care not fire pistol,” said Mesty to the men as they came up, putting his finger to their lips to impress them with the necessity of silence, for Mesty had been an African warrior, and knew the advantage of surprise. All the men being on deck, and the boat made fast, Jack and Mesty led the way aft; not a soul was to be seen: indeed, it was too dark to see anybody unless they were walking the deck. The companion-hatch was secured, and the gratings laid on the after-hatch ways, and then they went aft to the binnacle again, where there was a light burning. Mesty ordered two of the men to go forward to secure the hatches, and then to remain there on guard—and then the rest of the men and our hero consulted at the wheel.
“By the power we ab the ship!” said Mesty, “but must manage plenty yet. I tink der some damn lazy rascal sleep ’tween the guns. A lilly while it no rain, and den we see better. Now keep all quiet.”
“There must be a great many men in this ship,” replied our hero; “she is very large, and has twelve or fourteen guns—how shall we manage to secure them?”
“All right,” replied Mesty, “manage all dat by-and-bye. Don’t care how soon daylight come.”
“It has left off raining already,” observed Easy; “there is a candle in the binnacle—suppose we light it and look round the decks.”
“Yes,” replied Mesty, “one man sentry over cabin hatch, and another over after-hatch. Now den we light candle, and all the rest go round the deck. Mind you leave all your pistols on capstern.”
Jack lighted the candle, and they proceeded round the decks: they had not walked far, when, between two of the guns, they discovered a heap covered with gregos. “There de watch,” whispered Mesty; “all fast—not ready for dem yet.”
Mesty blew out the candle, and they all retreated to the binnacle, where Mesty took out a coil of the ropes about the mizzen-mast, and cutting it into lengths, gave them to the other men to unlay. In a few minutes they had prepared a great many seizings to tie the men with.
“Now den we light candle again, and make sure of them lazy hounds,” said Mesty; “very much oblige to dem all de same; they let us take de ship—mind now, wake one at a time, and shut him mouth.”
“But suppose they get their mouths free and cry out?” replied Jack.
“Den, Mr. Easy,” replied Mesty, changing his countenance to an expression almost demoniacal—“there no help for it”—and Mesty showed his knife which he held in his right hand.
“Oh, no! do not let us murder them.”
“No, massa—suppose can help it; but suppose they get upper hand—what become of us? Spaniards hab knives, and use dem too, by de power!”
The observation of Mesty was correct, and the expression of his countenance when he showed his knife proved what a relentless enemy he could be, if his blood was once roused—but Mesty had figured in the Ashantee wars in former days, and after that the reader need not be surprised. They proceeded cautiously to where the Spaniards lay. The arrangements of Mesty were very good. There were two men to gag them while the others were to tie their limbs. Mesty and Easy were to kneel by them with the candle, with raised knives to awe them into silence, or to strike home, if their own safety required it.
The gregos were removed off the first man, who opened his eyes at the sight of the candle, but the coxswain’s hand was on his mouth—he was secured in silence. The other two men were awaked, and threw off their coverings, but they were also secured without there being occasion to resort to bloodshed.
“What shall we do now, Mesty?”
“Now, sar,” said Mesty, “open the after-hatch and watch—suppose more men come up, we make them fass; suppose no more come up, we wait till daylight—and see what take place.”
Mesty then went forward to see if the men were watchful on the forecastle; and having again gone round the whole of the deck to see if there were any more men on it, he blew out the candle, and took his station with the others at the after-hatchway.
It was just at break of day that the Spaniards who had to keep the morning watch having woke up, as people generally do at that hour at which they expect to be called, dressed themselves and came on deck, imagining, and very truly, that those of the middle watch had fallen asleep, but little imagining that the deck was in possession of Englishmen. Mesty and the others retreated, to allow them all to come up before they could perceive them, and fortunately this was accomplished. Four men came on the deck, looked round them, and tried to make out in the dark where their shipmates might be. The grating was slapped on again by Jack, and before they could well gain their eyesight, they were seized and secured, not, however, without a scuffle and some noise.
By the time that these men were secured and laid between the guns it was daylight, and they now perceived what a fine vessel they had fairly taken possession of—but there was much to be done yet. There was, of course, a number of men in the ship, and, moreover, they were not a mile from a battery of ten guns. Mesty, who was foremost in everything, left four men abaft and went forward on the forecastle, examined the cable, which was coir rope, and therefore easily divided, and then directed the two men forward to coil a hawser upon the fore-grating, the weight of which would make all safe in that quarter, and afterwards to join them on the quarter-deck.
“Now, Mr. Easy, the great ting will be to get hold of captain; we must get him on deck. Open cabin-hatch now, and keep the after-hatch fast. Two men stay there, the others all come aft.”
“Yes,” replied Jack, “it will be a great point to secure the captain—but how are we to get him up?”
“You no know how to get captain up? By de holy, I know very well.”
And Mesty took up the coils of rope about the mizzen-mast, and threw them upon deck, one after another, making all the noise possible. In a short time there was a violent pull of a bell at the cabin door, and in a minute afterwards a man in his shirt came up the cabin-hatchway, who was immediately secured.
“Dis de captain’s servant,” said Mesty, “he come say no make such damned noise. Stop a little—captain get in passion, and come up himself.”
And Mesty renewed the noise with the ropes over the cabin. Mesty was right; in a few minutes the captain himself came up, boiling with indignation. At the sound of the cabin door opening, the seamen and our hero concealed themselves behind the companion-hatch, which was very high, so as to give the captain time to get fairly on deck. The men already secured had been covered over with the gregos. The captain was a most powerful man, and it was with difficulty that he was pinioned, and then without his giving the alarm, had there been anyone to assist him, but as yet no one had turned out of his hammock.
“Now we all right,” said Mesty, “and soon ab de ship; but I must make him ’fraid.”
The captain was seated down on the deck against one of the guns, and Mesty, putting on the look of a demon, extended above him his long nervous arm, with the sharp knife clutched, as if ready every instant to strike it into his heart. The Spanish captain felt his situation anything but pleasant. He was then interrogated as to the number of men in the ship, officers, etcetera, to all which questions he answered truly: he cast his eyes at the firm and relentless countenance of Mesty, who appeared but to wait the signal.
“I tink all pretty safe now,” said Mesty. “Mr. Easy, we now go down below and beat all men into the hold.”
Our hero approved of this suggestion. Taking their pistols from the capstern, they rushed down with their cutlasses, and leaving two men to guard the cabin door, they were soon among the crew, who were all naked in their hammocks: the resistance, although the numbers were more than double of the English, was of course trifling. In a few minutes, the Spaniards were all thrown down into the hold of the vessel, and the hatches placed over them. Every part of the ship was now in their possession except the cabin, and to that they all repaired. Our hero tried the door, and found it fast; they beat it open, and were received with loud screams from one side of the cabin, and the discharge of two pistols from the other, fortunately without injury: those who had fired the pistols were an elderly man and a lad about the age of our hero. They were thrown down and secured; the cabin was searched, and nobody else found in it but three women; one old and shrivelled, the other two, although with their countenances distorted with terror, were lovely as Houris. So thought Jack, as he took off his hat, and made them a very low bow with his usual politeness, as they crouched, half dressed, in a corner. He told them in English that they had nothing to fear, and begged that they would attend to their toilets. The ladies made no reply, because, in the first place, they did not know what Jack said, and in the next, they could not speak English.
Mesty interrupted Jack in his attentions, by pointing out that they must all go upon deck—so Jack again took off his hat and bowed, and then followed his men, who led away the two prisoners taken in the cabin. It was now five o’clock in the morning, and there was movement on board of the other vessels, which lay not far from the ship.
“Now then,” said Jack, “what shall we do with the prisoners?—could we not send the boat and bring our own vessel alongside, and put them all in, tied as they are? We should then get rid of them.”
“Massa Easy, you be one very fine officer one of dese days. Dat damn good idea, anyhow;—but suppose we send our own boat, what they tink on board of de oder vessel? Lower down lilly boat from stern, put in four men, and drop vessel ’longside—dat it.”
This was done; the cutter was on the seaward side of the ship, and, as the ship was the outermost vessel, was concealed from the view of the Spaniards on board of the other vessels, and in the battery on shore. As soon as the lateen vessel was alongside, the men who had already been secured on deck, amounting to seven, were lowered into her, and laid upon the beans in the hold; all, except the captain, the two cabin prisoners, and the captain’s servant. They then went down below, took off one part of the hatches, and ordered the Spaniards up from the hold: as they came on deck they were made fast and treated in the same manner. Mesty and the men went down to examine if there were any left concealed, and finding that they were all out, returned on deck. The men who had been beaten down in the hold were twenty-two in number, making the whole complement of thirty. As soon as they had all been put into the xebeque, she was again hauled off and anchored outside, and Jack found himself in possession of a fine ship of fourteen guns, with three prisoners male and three prisoners female.
When the men returned in the boat from the vessel in which the prisoners had been confined (the hatches having been secured over them, by way of further precaution), by the advice of Mesty they put on the jackets and caps of the Spanish seamen, of which there was a plentiful supply below.
“Now what’s to be done, Mesty?” inquired Jack.
“Now, sar, we send some of the men aloft to get sails all ready, and while they do that I cast loose this fellow,” pointing to the captain’s servant, “and make him get some breakfast, for he know where to find it.”
“Capital idea of yours, Mesty, for I’m tired of bean-soup already, and I will go down and pay my respects to the ladies.”
Mesty looked over the counter.
“Yes, and be quick too, Massa Easy; damn the women, they toss their handkerchief in the air to people in the battery—quick, Massa Easy.”
Mesty was right—the Spanish girls were waving their handkerchiefs for assistance; it was all that they could do, poor things. Jack hastened into the cabin, laid hold of the two young ladies, very politely pulled them out of the quarter gallery, and begged that they would not give themselves so much trouble. The young ladies looked very much confused, and as they could no longer wave their handkerchiefs, they put them up to their eyes and began to weep, while the elderly lady went on her knees, and held her hands up for mercy. Jack raised her up, and very politely handed her to one of the cabin lockers.
In the meantime Mesty, with his gleaming knife and expressive look, had done wonders with the captain’s steward, for such the man was: and a breakfast of chocolate, salt meat, hams and sausages, white biscuit and red wine, had been spread on the quarter-deck. The men had come from aloft, and Jack was summoned on deck. Jack offered his hand to the two young ladies, and beckoned the old one to follow: the old lady did not think it advisable to refuse his courtesy, so they accompanied him.
As soon as the females came on deck, and found the two cabin prisoners bound, they ran to them and embraced them with tears. Jack’s heart melted, and as there was now no fear, he asked Mesty for his knife, and cut loose the two Spaniards, pointing to the breakfast, and requesting that they would join them. The Spaniards made a bow, and the ladies thanked Jack with a sweet smile; and the captain of the vessel, who still lay pinioned against the gun, looked, as much as to say, Why the devil don’t you ask me? but the fact was, they had had such trouble to secure him, that Jack did not much like the idea of letting him loose again. Jack and the seamen commenced their breakfast, and as the ladies and prisoners did not appear inclined to eat, they ate their share and their own too; during which the elderly man inquired of Jack if he could speak French.
Jack, with his mouth full of sausage, replied that he could; and then commenced a conversation, from which Jack learned as follows:—
The elderly gentleman was a passenger with the young man, who was his son, and the ladies, who were his wife and his two daughters, and they were proceeding to Tarragona. Whereupon Jack made a bow and thanked him; and then the gentleman, whose name was Don Cordova de Rimarosa, wished to know what Jack intended to do with them, hoping, as a gentleman, he would put them on shore with their effects, as they were non-combatants. Jack explained all this to Mesty and the men, and then finished his sausage. The men, who were a little elevated with the wine which they had been drinking, proposed that they should take the ladies a cruise, and Jack at first did not dislike the idea, but he said nothing; Mesty, however, opposed this, saying, that ladies only made a row in a ship, and the coxswain sided with him, saying, that they should all be at daggers drawn. Whereupon Jack pulled out the “articles of war,” and informed the men, that there was no provision in them for women, and therefore the thing was impossible.
The next question was, as to the propriety of allowing them to take their effects; and it was agreed, at last, that they might take them. Jack desired the steward to feed his master the captain, and then told the Spanish Don the result of the consultation; further informing him, that as soon as it was dark, he intended to put them all on board the small vessel, when they could cast loose the men and do as they pleased. The Don and the ladies returned thanks, and went down to pack up their baggage; Mesty ordering two men to help them, but with a caution, that they were not to encumber themselves with any of the money, if there should happen to be any on board.
The crew were busy during the day making preparations for sailing. The coxswain had examined the provender in the ship, and found that there was enough for at least three months, of water, wine, and provisions, independent of luxuries for the cabin. All thoughts of taking any more of the vessels were abandoned, for their crew was but weak to manage the one which they had possession of. A fine breeze sprang up, and they dropped their fore-topsails, just as a boat was shoving off from the shore; but seeing the fore-topsails loosed, it put back again. This was fortunate, or all would have been discovered. The other vessels also loosed their sails, and the crews were heard weighing the anchors.
But the Nostra Senora del Carmen, which was Jack’s prize, did not move. At last the sun went down, the baggage was placed in the cutter, the ladies and passengers went into the boat, thanking Jack for his kindness, who put his hand to his heart and bowed to the deck; and the captain was lowered down after them. Four men well armed pulled them alongside of the xebeque, put them and their trunks on deck, and returned to the ship. The cutter was then hoisted up, and as the anchor was too heavy to weigh, they cut the cable, and made sail. The other vessels followed their example. Mesty and the seamen cast longing eyes upon them, but it was of no use; so they sailed in company for about an hour, and then Jack hauled his wind for a cruise.